In this post, I will address our preparations in learning Spanish, and a change in how we are approaching our accommodation plans on the Camino.
While we will be starting our Camino in Porto, Portugal, we decided to learn Spanish as we figured we can continue to use it in other countries that we may later visit. We will learn and memorize some Portuguese phrases to get by.
How are we learning Spanish? We looked into two modalities – books and software language programs. We did not consider classes at local colleges/language institutes. We initially tried the books, but it was too difficult as we did not have any audio. In addition, the organization of the books required them to go into the full details for any specific topic. Which is more than a beginner can typically handle.
Searching online, I found a list of the top 10 Spanish language software programs. I read the reviews, pros/cons and as usual, there was a wide variety of approaches and adherents. I then decided to ping friends who had moved to Barcelona in 2016, Meg & Shawn, who recommended Fluenz (this was typically in the top 3 of the various lists). When we made the Fluenz purchase, it was during the holiday season, and we were able to get some discounts.
Fluenz Spanish was promoted as designed for English speakers. Interestingly, because of our Bahasa Malaysia language heritage, some of the sentence structures were similar, and thus, parts of it was easier for us to understand and align. Example, in English, the adjective comes before the noun. But in Bahasa Malaysia and Spanish, the adjective is after the noun.
- The big car (English)
- El coche grande (Spanish)
- Kereta besar (Bahasa Malaysia)
- Car = coche = kereta
- Big = grande = besar
I find the Fluenz lessons structured in a way to ease one’s learning and comprehension. Their lessons are structured around various scenarios, e.g. in a café. They have a video of two persons having a conversation, with captions in Spanish/English and English. And finally, the same conversation without captions. They also have various exercises to match the Spanish phrases to English phrases. They have an exercise where someone speaks in Spanish, and you then have to write out in Spanish (I found this difficult but effective as it really trains one’s ears). They have an instructor that decomposes and goes through the scenario dialog. They have an exercise where one can listen to the 2 speakers, and subsequently, one can record one’s voice, standing in for one of the 2 speakers. One could ‘turn off’ the Spanish phrases if one has truly memorized the dialog (which is still a stretch for me). Net, plenty of learning stimulation.
Fluenz has the ability to support multiple devices. So, I have this on my Windows laptop, Joon has it on her iPad, and we intend to also have it on our Android smartphones (space permitting).
Learning Spanish is a delightful experience. We make every effort to put in an hour each weekday, though we have missed some weekdays. It does take some effort and concentration, especially to memorize the spellings, the grammatical structure, the masculinity vs femininity. Joon has a better ear and intonation than me, so, this is something that I have to work a bit harder at. And put in more hours!
This might seem to be a digression, but bear with me. When Joon was expecting, and we were walking around, we seem to be aware and noticing other pregnant ladies walking around. Likewise, as we are learning Spanish, all of a sudden, we are spotting Spanish signs and trying to decipher the new words. Funny how the brain/mind works!
We know that the brain decreases in size as we age. And I guess we accept it as part of the aging process. Well, I found out that learning a new language actually increases the size of the brain! Imagine that! Here’s the ARTICLE.
One of my bucket list items is to live several months in another country. Per article, it looks like having an immersive learning experience in a Spanish-speaking country may just align with that bucket item! As Col. John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team says, ‘I love how the plan comes together’.
What I would like to share next is how my thoughts and plans about accommodation on the Camino has evolved. My initial instincts on accommodation were two-fold; these go against my natural travel planning but I initially wanted it as part and parcel of the Camino experience.
- Other than the start/end of the Camino, I wanted to let each day on the trail un-fold as it will, and let God/fate decide where we will put up for the night. To surrender, to not be in total control.
- I wanted to have the communal experience of lodging and dining with fellow pilgrims at (municipal) albergues de peregrinos (latter do not accept reservations but are on a first come, first serve basis). This lodging comprises many bunk beds in dormitories, and thus, ear plugs are highly recommended!
And then, we read Hape Kerkeling’s Camino book, ‘I’m off then’. Hape (aka Hans Peter) is a famous German comedian, who backpacked his way on the Camino Frances. He too initially lodged at an albergue, but he found that he wasn’t getting enough sleep/rest. He’s not an early bird, and the need to rush to the next town, was impacting his Camino experience. He aptly put it that if he could afford alternative accommodation, why didn’t he? That rationale, plus the fact that Joon is a light sleeper, swung the deal. I decided to book every night on the trail, alternating between Airbnb, hotel.com and booking.com. I found that in some smaller towns, the Airbnb properties were more centrally located than those on hotel/booking.com. Airbnb also provided the ability to interact with the local hosts! We will still have a night’s experience at a newer albergue which took reservations!! The act of booking our accommodation liberated our daily schedule – rising when we wish, the freedom to pace as the day unfolds, visit places/sights between stops, not being concerned when we reach our day’s stop. This will be the approach we undertake Our Camino.